Susan Sgorbati

Image of Susan Sgorbati
Director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action

Susan Sgorbati, the director of the Elizabeth Coleman Center for the Advancement of Public Action, is a professional mediator and educator whose creative research has led to collaboration across disciplines ranging from dance improvisation to biology to visual arts, as both an artist and a driver of social change.


Sgorbati is the director of the Elizabeth Coleman Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College, where she was the former Dean of Faculty and holds the Barbara and Lewis Jones Chair for Social Activism. She created and directs the Conflict Resolution program and curriculum at Bennington that includes courses in negotiation, mediation, environmental dispute resolution, conflict resolution theory, complex systems design, and court processes. In 1999, Sgorbati founded Quantum Leap, an organization that has reconnected more than 2,000 elementary, middle, and high school students to their education in the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union who are truant, at risk, or have dropped out of school. Currently, she and Daniel Michaelson are co-directors of the organization. Sgorbati co-created and was the first director of the Governor’s Institute on the Arts, (now the Governor’s Institutes of Vermont), a summer residential program for adolescents in the state of Vermont.

Sgorbati is a professional mediator in private practice and mediates cases for the Vermont Human Rights Commission. In the past fifteen years, she has mediated cases for environmental and community disputes as well as for businesses, non-profits, and educational institutions. She is particularly interested in resolving conflicts over water on a local, national, and international scale. She currently teaches three courses in this area: Solving The Impossible: Intractable Conflicts, Moment of Criticality: Complex Systems Design, and Water Dialogues.

Sgorbati has been involved in the field of dance for more than 30 years as an improviser, artistic director, dancer, and teacher. She has been on the dance faculty at Bennington College since 1983, and she has co-taught numerous interdisciplinary courses with biologists, musicians, visual artists, and anthropologists. Her focus on dance improvisation for performance coalesced into an ongoing research on the relationship between dance improvisation and the science of complex systems, which she named emergent improvisation (EI). In 2011, she was granted the first creative research residency at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to explore her new research on “emergent structuring.” Her new film in collaboration with filmmaker Elliot Caplan is on emergent improvisation; titled Emergent Forms, this film will premier in Fall 2016.

Sgorbati’s writing has been published in Contact Quarterly dance journal, Nouvelles de Danse (Belgium), and the anthology Idea in Action (Berlin: Spector Books, 2012). Her first book, published by Contact Editions, called Emergent Improvisation: On Spontaneous Composition where Dance Meets Science was published June 2013.